James Taylor Dickinson.

A sermon, delivered in the Second Congregational church, Norwich, on the fourth of July, 1834, at the request of the Anti-slavery society of Norwich, Connecticut online

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Online LibraryJames Taylor DickinsonA sermon, delivered in the Second Congregational church, Norwich, on the fourth of July, 1834, at the request of the Anti-slavery society of Norwich, Connecticut → online text (page 1 of 5)
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^i^ the fourth of July, 1834.


*t nth Slavery Society of J\*orivich, fJonnecticul.



Pastor of the Second Congregational Churclj





Proverbs, x:cxi. 9.

' Upen thy moutlij judge righteously, and piead tlie cause of the poor
and needy.''


" So I returned and considered all the oppressions that art under the sun :
and behold the tears of such as were oppressed, and they had no comforter :
and on the side of the oppressors there was power; but they had no coni

Jeremiah, xxii. 3.

" Thus saith the Lord : Execute ye judgment and righteousness, and de
liver the spoiled out of the hand of the oppressor; and done wrong."

The Bible speaks with great frequency, and in terms of unineasured
severity, of the sin of oppression. Take as a specimen such language
as the following : Wo unto them that decree unrighteous decrees, and that
write grievonsness lohich they have prescribed ; to turn aside the needy from
judgment, and to take away the right from the poor of my jyeople. Rob
not the poor, because he is poor ; neither oppress the ajjlicted in the gate :
for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled
them. Jehovah represents himself as taking the part of the oppressed ;
For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, will I arise
saith the Lord. The Lord executeth righteousness and judgment for all
that are oppressed. Ha shall save the children of the needy, and shall
break in pieces the oppressor. Anyone who has never examined the
Bible with reference to this subject, will be surptised to find how much it
contains respecting oppression. Passages without number might be
quoted, similar to those already cited. It may be considered then a point
settled, that God frowns upon oppression, and considers the oppressor as
.1 sinnen

Tliat modern slave-holding is oppression, and oppression too oi tiit
uorst kind, is another point that can be established with equal certainty.
Individuals there indeed are, that are calltd slave-holders, who render to
iheir servants "that which is just and equal." But these are slave-hold-
ers only in }utme. When we speak of slave-holding, we hiean that sys-
tem which claims the right of buying and selling human beings, of tearing
asunder families, of whhholding wages, and of shutting out instruction,
and consequently the Bible. This system we say is a system of opprcs
sion, and therefore is regarded by the Bible as sin. Those persons who
are nominally slave-holders, but who do not claim the right of prop 07- 1 ij in
their servants, nor withhold from them a reasonable compensation for theii
labor, nor deny them instruction and the Bible, are not slave-holders in
fact, whatever they may be in form or name. When we speak of slave-
liolders, we do not mean them. We however believe the number of this
class of persons in our country to be small ; for if the number were con-
.-riderable, we should see the petitions going up to the legislatures of the
.sR\ eral states for the repeal of oppressive laws : we should see them uni-
ting their eflbrts, and doing all in their power to put an end to the sys-
lem of slavery. But we see no such thing. It is evident that a majori-
ly of our countrymen, at least, are willing that the oppression should
continue ; for its continuance depends only upon the will of the majority.
Let the will of the majority be changed, and slavery will cease. What
'.ve propose to do is, to act upon this will until it is changed.

I stand before you, my friends, to-day, as the a.ppointed organ of the
Anti-Slavery Society of Norwich and vicinity, to explain and vindicate its
doctrines and plans. But we shall be asked at once, Why preach on this
subject at the North? Why form an Anti-Slavery Society in Norwich,
when there are no slaves here ? True there are no slaves in Norwich, but
there are men in Norwich who, in conjunction with their countrymen,
hold slaves in the District of Columbia, and in the Territories of Arkan-
sas and Florida. The citizens of Norwich are just as much responsi-
l)le for the continuance of slavery in the District of Columbia and the
United States Territories, as the citizens of South Carolina are for the
'jontinuance of slavery in that state. The free slates, being the majority,
have the power and the right to set at liberty twenty-six thousand slaves.
i''very person who does not petition Congress on this subject, and exert
Ills whole influence to procure the liberation of these twenty-six thousand,
participates in the guilt of slave holding. Every person who holds sen-
timents in relation to slavery, \\hich, if held by all, would allow Congress
*o remain inactive, and thus keep in bondage these twenty-six thousand
liuraan beings, is chargeable with sin. Every person whose sentiments
in regard to slavery are correct, but who does not exert his influence to
<;xtend those sentiments, is also chargeable wiih sin. There is need,
then, of an anti-slavery society among us. We need such a society to cor-
rect and embody public sentiment, and cause it to bear against this sin. —
The opinion prevails here, that we have no right to meddle with this sub-
ject. This opinion is entirely wrong and must be corrected. We not
only have a right to meddle with it, but it is our positive duty, and we
eommitsin if we do not meddle with it ; for so long as we refuse to act
i>n this subject, wo arc holding our fellow-creatures in bondage, by con-

tributing our intiuenoc to the upholding of thut public scnliaicnt which
upholds the systein of slavery. But besides our obligations (o ihe twen-
ty-six thousand slaves referred to, we bave duties to peiform to our South-
ern brethren in relation to this subjtct. V* e are buund to show them
their duty. The opinion has been ahno.^i universal in the iVee states, that
we have no right to interfere with slavery at the South. li' by interference
it be meant that we have no right to instij;,ato the slave. - to rebellion, or
that Congress has no right to nulhfy the laws of any of the >tates, we
most fully grant such interfernre would' be wrong. But who has ever
dreamed of such interference as this? Abohtionists have not. They
have always distinctly disclaimed .-uch intentions. If by interference, it
be meant that we have no right to preach or publish the truth to our South-
ern biethrea, then we say the opinion if wrong. It is not only our
right, but our duty, to point out to them the sin of >htvt'-h()lding, just as it
is our duty to show to tlie C hine^e, the Hindoo, and ti:e Sandwich Island-
er, the sin of idolatry. Our duty to the people of the South is in >ome
respects more imperative than ou tiuty to the pe<<|de ol other lands —
They are our countrymen; and they are ciierishiiig a mh which is brin;:ing
disgrace upon our country in the eyes ot ihe whole world, anri whtcli
threatens to draw down ujion us the vengeance of the God oi'the oppress-
ed. When thcretbre we see them buymg and selling then fellow nicn,
separiting husbands from wives, and paren's fromt liildren ; when we see
them enacting laws v.hich forbid their uislruction, and thus shutting them
out from the Bible, we are bound to tell ihem that ; uch things are smt'ul,
and t.:at they ought to repent. Will it be objected that we have never
lived at the South, and are not so well qualified to judge -^f the guilt of slave-
ry as those who are on the -pot ; and thut consequently we had better
leave the work of refbrmatio' to those who are best acq ainted with the sin?
Il is true we are not so well acquainted uith the sin as they are; and for
that vrij reason we think we ar better quahlied to expose it and put it
(i wn. Is not the m.an who drinks only water the best person to expose
the evils of drunkenness, and moderate drinking, and rumsclHiig] Must
he estabiish a dram-shop, and watch the operation of the business, before
he can tell whether it is sinful? Must he iiecome a drunkard himseli', be-
fore he can know the evils of d> inking? Obviously, the more tem()erate
he is, the better qualified he is to be a temperance reformei. Ihe same
rule holds tiue in regard to all other sin . The less wekni)W of sin oruc-
tically, 4'ie better qualified we are to put di>wn sin. Who are the best
men to put down the theatre and the gaining house ? PIair.lv, not the men
who frequent the theatre — notthe men who aref umd in the gaming ho';se?
Who, then, ate the best men to exp'.>se tlie sin of lavery ? Those certain-
ly who are the least acquainted with it. We at the North, therefore are
better qualified than the people of the South to commence and carry
forward tliis reformation. We are at least b^und to liberate our own
sla\es in the District of Columbia and the Territories, and to reason with
all our countrymen until we persuade them to liberate theirs.

We proceed now to set forth what we believe to be the true doc.trinein
regai-d to slavery. Our doctrine is, thata// slave-holding is sin — meaning by
slave-holding, the claiuiinii andexeicising of the r;ght of property in man,
of having and selling human beings, of separating families, of witnhohl-


iiig ihe Bible, and of refusing coinpensaliou for services. Those ^vh(>
iJcny the sinfuhiess of slave-holding, are always carcftil to give such a
liefinition of slavery as to include those few persons who are only nonnnol
slave-holders. They tnuke their definition loo-se and indelinite, as.if ibi
fhe very purpose of palliating the sin. I have read with grief the apolo-
gies for slave-holding, in the form of loose definiiions, which have been
.-.pread Ix^foro the community by son.e of our best men, and by our mo.-t
respectable religious jjeriodicals. The Christian Spectator, in an ariiclo
1)11 skivery, uses the fdlluwing language: "It is necessary to define dis-
linctly the subject in debate, viz : What is slavery ? Before attempting a
direct answer to this question, it is to be remarked (liat there are many
varieties of slavery ; that the laws of dificrenlconntries and ages limit and
modify the relations of master and slave, in manv dilTerent degrees ; and that
therel'ore the ans^wer ought to I'nclude slavery in all its tbrms." Rut wc
would ask, what have we to do with slavery in other countries, and other
iiges ? The inquiry respects slavery in our own country. When the
friends of temperance institute an inquiry into the effects of ardent spirits
as used in our country, tlvy do not consider it necessary to extend the in-
quiry to wine and opium, and every thing of the kind, which has been
used in all countries and in all ages. Why then attempt to include cveiy
species of servitude in a definiiion of American slavery ? but let us hear
the definition which the Spectator finally gives of slavery. "It is an ar-
tificial relation, or civil constitution, by which one man is invested witii
[iropeity in the labor of another, to whom, by virtue of that relation, ho
owes the duties of protection, support and government, and who owes
him in return, obedience and submission." This definition, it will be seen
includes a|)prenticeship, a? well as slavery. The master is invested with
property in the labor of his apprentice, as really as the slave-holder is in
(he labor of his slave. With such a definition, it is not strange that the
writer should be able to show that slave holding does not necessarily in>
ply guilt, and that immediate emancipation is not necessarily a duty.

The American Quarterly Observer, in an article on the Declaration of
American Independence, advances similar sentiments. Tlie writer no
Vihere gives a formal definition of slavery, but the Ibilowing passage will
convey some idea of his views on this subject: "Slavery is not a malinn
ill se, but a nudum per conscqiicnda ; not possessing in itself any mora!
quality whatsoever, but taking its moral hue from the accompanying cir-
cumstances, from the various physical relations of the parties to one an-
other, and the motives, feelings and views of the masters in retaining theii
slaves in bondage." Allowing this doctrine to be correct, we might with
equal propriety say that rum-selling in itself considered has no moral
ipiality whatever. When sold for medical purposes, or for any purpose
evcept as a diink for persons in health, it is an entirely innocent business.
And yet if we open one of the reports of the American Temperance So-
ciety, we read that ^'between the. traffic in ardent spirits and a profession
irf Ike Christian religion there is a total hostilttij.^' We turn to another
page, and read over the places where rum is sold should be written, " The
vay to hell, going down to the chambers of death." W^e read on, and
( ome to this assertion, " Distillei'S, retailers and drimlards arc cidpritsin
Ihe erirs of all sober men.-' Now we ask. why do not those who denounce

abolitionists for calling slave-holding a sin, arraign the American Temper-
ance Society for using such unqualified language in respect to the irafiic
in ardent spiiits, when it is known that there are men who sell ardent
spirits from good motives? "When we attack any sin, we attack some
Ibrm of it that is known to exist, and wc use language that is general. —
When we attack rum-selling, we mean rum-selling as it is commonh
practised, without stoppuig to make the exceptions. When we attack
slave-holding we mean such .-lave-hoiding as is common m our country.
If any persons are slave-holders only in name, and we suppose there arc
a few such, let it be understoed ihat we have no controversy with them.

We come now to the question, What is slavery ? and we wish for a defi-
nition that shall not be abstract, but applicable to the case under conside-
ration, viz. slavery as it exists at the present day in our own country. Let
us go then to the slave lau-s and to fad^, to learn what slavery is, and then
we will make out our definition. And let it be here observed, that in a
country like ours, where the laws depend upon the will of the majority, and
where elections are annual, it is a fair presumption that the laws express
the decided sentiment of a majority of the people. And since the laws
are sanctioned by the practice and silent consent of many of those who
are said to be unfriendly to the system of slavery, but who make no ef-
forts lo procure a change of these laws, we may conclude that not only a
majority, but the great body of the people, are willing that they should
remain as they are. The slave-laws, then, may be considered as con-
taining the eoibodied sentiments of the nation in regard to slavery. Let
us examine some of the provisions of these laws.

In the first place, the laws of all the slave-holding states regard slaves,
not as human beings, bvt us ihiiigs, or beasts ; not as the owners of ilitir
onmbodies and souls, but as the propcrftj of their masters. One or two
quotations will be sufficient to illustrate this point. The law of South Car-
olina is as follows : " Slaves shall be deemed, sold, taken, reputed and
adjudged, in law, to be chattels personal in the hands of their owners or
possessors, and their executors, administrators and assigns, to all intents,
constructions, and purposes whatsoever." According to the civil code of
Louisiana, " A slave is one who is in the power of the master to whoui
he belongs. The master may sell him, dispose of his person, his indus-
try, and his labor; he can do noihing, possess nothing, nor acquire
any thing, but what must belong to his master."

Again, the slave is entirehj subject to the will of the master, and may be
jmnishcd by him even with death. The laws in relation to the protection
o( the life of the slave are so peculiar that they deserve especial consider
ration. If we read only one clause of a statute, we should conclude that
the protection of the slave is intended; but if we read on, we find some
exception or provision which entirely nullifies the law, and leaves the
slave at the mercy of the master or overseer. An act of North Carolina,
passed in 179S, reads thus: ''Whereas by another act of assembly,,
passed in the year 1774, the killing of a slave, however wanton, cruel and

*These quotations from the slave laws, and most of those that follow, are
t'lom " Stroud's Slave Laws," The references to this and to other authori-
ties quoted in different parts of Jhe discourse, are for the sake of convenience


deliberate, is orilypunished inthefirst instance by imprisonment and paying
the value thereof to the owner, which distinction of criminality between the
murder of a w hite person & one who is equally a human creature, but merely
of a diflerent complexion, is disgraceful to humanity, and degrading in the
highest degree to the laws and principles of a free, Christian and enlight-
ened country. Be it enacted, &.C. Ihat if any person shall hereafier be
guilty of will'ully and maliciously killing a slave, such offender shall, upon
the lirst conviction thereof, be adjudged guilty of murder, and shall suffer
the same punishment a^ if he had killed a free man ; Provided alwaijs,
this act shall hol extend to the person hilling ashtve oiiiluived bij virtue ofimij
act ofassetnblij oj this ^tate,or tetany slave in the actofresista.tce to his law fid
owMr or master, or to any slave dying under moderate correction.''^ The
law of Georgia is .substantially the same. INow when we take into con-
.-ideration this law, and all the circumstances connected with it, it appears
to be the very height of ciuelty. It allows the murder of an outlawed
slave — and « hen is a slave an outlaw ? ''A proclamation of outlawry
against a slave is authorised, whenever he runs away from his master,
conceals hi.nself in some obscure retreat, and to sustain life, kills a hog,
or some animal of the cattle kind !!" The meanmg of the clause wliich
speaks of resistance may be known from a reported case, in which it has
been "judicially determined that it is justifiable to kill a slave resisting or
offering to resist his master by force." The absurdity of styling that
correction ''moderate" which cause.- death, is too gross to need comment.
Hero then is a law, which, while it speaks of its being "disgraceful to
humanity" to abuse a slave because he nas a " different complexion," di-
rectly alter gives license to murder him whenever the slave affersio resist,
or whenever the master oroverseerchuosestoresoitto moc/cra/ecorrection.

But there is anothsr law common to all the slave States, which effectu-
ally excludes the slave (rom the protection of law and leaves him at the
mercy, not of the master merely, but of all othei white men. I refer to
the law which excludes the colored man from giving testimony againat
the white man. Any white man can abuse or kill any number ot
slaves or free colored men, and provided no while man is [Jiesent as a
w'itnes.-j, he cannot be convicted. This law exposes the whole colored
race to the abuse of any and of every white man, and particularly of that
class of men whom Mr. Wirt styles the "last and lovvest,a/ef«/«?n of beings,
called overseers the most abject,degraded, unprincipled race — always cap
in hand to the dons who employ them, and turnishin;: materialsfor the ex
crcise of their pride, insolence, and spirit of domination."

Again, the slave laws are such as almost entirely to destroy the institution
of marriage, aid to produce general licentiousness. I quote as [)roof the
testimony of the Hev. Mr. Paxton, a friend of the Colonization Society,
and formerly a slave-holder : " Some slaves have indeed a mairiaga cer-
emony performed. It is however usually done by one of their own color,
and of course is not a legal transaction. And if done by a person le-
gally authorised to perform marriages, still it would have no auihority, be-
ravse the law does not recognise marriage among slaves^ so as to clothe it
with the rights and immunities which it has among citizens. The owner of
(Mther party might the next day or hour break up the connection, in any
wavho pleased. In fact, these connections have no protection, and are


so often broken up by sales and transfers and removals, that they are by
the slaves often called taking zip together. The sense of marriage fideli-
ty must be greatly weakened, if not wholly destroyed, by vsuch a state of
things. The effect is most disastrous." Mr. Paxton then goes on to
give the details of this disastrous effect, both upon the slaves and upon
the white population ; but I will not give you pain by presenting the dis-
gusting picture. A system better fitted to produce licentiousness could
not be devised, than the slave system.

Attain, the slave Imus forbid the teaching of slaves to read or write, and
I hvs preclude their instruction in the Scriptures. Laws against the in-
struction of slaves were enacted as early as 1740, and these laws have
been growing more and more severe ever since. The revised cede of
Virginia contains an enactment which declares that " any school or
schools for teaching them, [i. e. all negroes, or mulattoes, whether bond
or free] reading or writing, either in the day or night, under whatsoever
pretext, shall be deemed and considered an unlawiul assembly." In
North Carolina, '' to teach a slave to read or write, or to sell or give him
any book or pamphlet, is punished with sixty-nine lashes, or with impris-
onment at the discretion of the court, if the offender be a free negro ;
and with a line of two hundred dollars, if a white." The reason set
forth in this law is, that " teaching slaves to read and write tends to excite
dissatisfaction in their minds, and to produce insurrection and rebellion."
The laws of the other slave states are similar. In Louisiana, an act has
been passed within a few years of more than ordinary severity. The
words of the statute are as follows : '■ If any person in Louisiana, from
the bar, bench, stage, pulpit, or any other place, or in conversation, shall
make use of any language, signs or actions, having a tendency to pro-
duce discontent among the free colored people, or insubordination among
the slaves, such person shall be punished with imprisonment from three to
twentv-one years, or with death at the discretion of the court." Accord-
ing to this law, the reading of the 5Sth chapter of Isaiah, when any col-
ored person should be present, would be punishable with death ; for sure-
ly that chapter would have a tendency ioproduce discontent iij the minds of
the oppressed.

I might go on quoting these oppressive laws for hours, but your patience
must not be abused. After what I consider a faithful examination of this
part of the subject, I have come to the conclusion that the laws afford no
protection to the slave that is worth naming ; and not only so, they re-
quire the slave-holder to be an oppressor, and consequently to break the
laws of God. According to law, the slave can have no p}'oper/i/,|no ivifc,
no children, no Bible. And what is this but making a man a heathen by
statute? Forbid a man to hold property, and you make him a thief. Take
away his wife and children and break up the marriage institution, and you
make him licentious. Withhold from him the Bible, and you complete
the whole work of degradation, and he is altogether a heathen.

We have thus seen what slavery is, according to law, and have said that
if the laws were obeyed, they would make the slaves heathen. Let us
now see whether they are not heathen in fact. On this point I will pre-
sent some extracts from an essay prepared during the last year, under the
direction of the Presbytery of Georgia, by the Rev. C. C. Jones, of


Liberty county. Mr. Jcnes, having under his pastoral charge six thou-
sand slaves, has taken special pains to investigate their moral and religious
condition ; and this fact, in connection with the excellence of his charac-
ter, gives to his testimony great weight. In reply to the question, '• Has
the negro access to the Scriptures ?" he says, " The statutes of our re-
spective states forbid it, or when through some oversight Ihey do not, cus-
tom does. On the one hand he cannot be a hearer of the law, for oral

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Online LibraryJames Taylor DickinsonA sermon, delivered in the Second Congregational church, Norwich, on the fourth of July, 1834, at the request of the Anti-slavery society of Norwich, Connecticut → online text (page 1 of 5)